Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Slow-rise olive oil bread

Since my mother introduced me to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I've really been digging breadcraft. The method used in that book is simple: mix a wet dough, let it rise slowly to develop the wheat gluten naturally, then store it in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake, at which point you just tear off a lump, form it, and bake it on a stone. The result is a gorgeous peasant loaf.

It's a ridiculously easy technique that can be applied to all sorts of breads. Buy the book. For now, though, I'm going to give a recipe for my current favorite dough, which is also the crux of my calzones.

Slow-rise olive oil dough

  • 2 3/4 c. lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. dry yeast (or less, see note below)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/4 c. virgin olive oil
  • 6 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Mix first five ingredients in a bowl or other container with a capacity of at least five quarts. (Something with a lid that isn't airtight is best. I use a big plastic pitcher, as its shape makes it easy to fit in the refrigerator.) Add flour on top of the liquid, then mix to combine using a sturdy wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk (seriously, these things are like magic wands).

Mix until the dough is combined, but don't over-work it. The resulting dough will be lumpy-looking and may form some sheets, but it shouldn't have any flour pockets.

Cover the container (but don't seal it, lest it explode!).

Let the dough sit at warm room temperature until the it has risen and started to fall again. It should increase in volume by a factor of two or three. How long this takes will depend on the quantity of yeast you use. With the full 1 1/2 tbsp., it should take only a couple of hours; with only 1/2 tbsp., it might take a whole afternoon. The slower rise induced by using less yeast will produce a smoother, denser dough than the faster rise induced by the full dose. The choice is yours!

Once the dough has risen, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks in a lidded (but not sealed!) container.

Olive oil bread

  • 1 lb. piece (approx. grapefruit-sized) olive oil dough, recipe above
  • Flour for dusting

Tear off a pound of dough (about a grapefruit-sized lump) from your refrigerated dough. Form it into a ball, dust it with flour, and work the surface by pulling dough from the floured top of the ball around its sides with your fingers.

Rotate the ball after each time you pull the sides around. This action will create a layer of worked and floured dough at the surface of the ball, which will help in the formation of a crust. After six or so iterations of this procedure, the surface of your ball should have a nice, even texture. Set it on a lightly-floured work surface and let it rest for about 40 minutes.

Place a pizza stone on a rack of your oven with clearance to work and a baking tray on another rack. Set the oven to 450°F and allow it to heat for at least half an hour so the stone heats up to baking temperature.

When the oven is heated and the loaf rested, dust the loaf with flour, then slash a few lines in the top with a long serrated knife. These lines need only be about a quarter inch in depth, but there should be at least three of them; you can pick any pattern you like.

Transfer the dough to a floured peel, then slide it onto the hot stone. Pour 1 c. warm tap water into the baking tray after adding the loaf (watch out for the steam!) and close the door quickly. Do not open the door again for at least ten minutes, as the steam is crucial to crust formation. Bake for thirty minutes or until the crust is browned and firm.

Once the loaf is removed from the oven, thump it with a finger—it should make a nice, resonant sound. Put the finished loaf on a wire rack and allow it to cool completely before slicing or eating. This is not a bread you should eat hot from the oven; the lovely, custard-like crumb won't set up until the bread has cooled. Once it's cool, cut off a slice, smear it with a good cultured butter, and enjoy!

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